Dima’s dad, General Borin, is plagued by the ambitions of political officers. Communist Party representatives who wear Army uniforms annoy him like they annoy most senior Soviet commanders. Borin believes he has politics under control — until a threat against Dima takes his breath away!
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Borin Defends Dima: The General and the Commissar
Moon over Berlin, Sun over Santorini: B1C8
The Russian administrative position of “Commissar” or Komisar dates all the way back to Peter the Great. The word actually shares the same roots as the English word commissary, and is not an abbreviation with “Communist” figuring in, as some people believe.
Trotsky introduced the position of Komisar to the Soviet Army shortly after the Revolution, during a period when the Communist Party could not trust professional military officers. The senior Komisar of any given command was co-equal to the military commander. All military orders had to be approved by the komisar, who was a Party official with usually little or no military training. Stalin retained the Komisar system until 1942, when a series of military disasters convinced him that professional officers needed their hands freed so they could fight without interference from amateurs.
Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, political officers remained attached to army units, though without the ability to countermand military orders. They became known as zampolits, an abbreviation of zamestitel’ komondira politicheskoi chasti, which translates to “assistant commander for political affairs.” In informal usage, many people continued to call political officers komisars.
Zampolits were very powerful. Peltsin, though only a colonel, would have considered himself the social and military equal of General Borin. In this chapter, their initial jockeying for social position is reflected in the names and honorifics they use, each man attempting to assert dominance. A full treatment of Russian honorifics is beyond the scope of this note, but if anyone cares to ask me more, I’d be thrilled to bore you silly with the details. ;-)
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